Friday, February 15, 2008

Into the Wild (sort of) in the Ozark National Forest....

The other day I finished reading the book, Into the Wild. The book centers around the true story of Chris McCandless, who gave all of his savings to charity, burned the rest of his money, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, hitchhiked across the country, and eventually walked alone into the Alaskan wilderness. He fancied himself as an outdoorsman, and thought he could handle everything, but the story didn't have a happy ending. The book follows his life as he traveled across the country, and the last few months of his life while he wasted away in an abandoned bus in the middle of nowhere.

Whether or not you agree with what he did, it is a haunting book. I can understand why he did what he did, but don't think I'd ever do anything similar to that. I'm too big of a fan of air conditioning (and eating), to make any foolhardy trips into the wilderness by myself. Plus, I'm a wuss and probably wouldn't last a day.

In one chapter of the book, it gives the stories of other people who went alone into the woods, with the same dire results. One story hit a little close to home. It's the story of Carl McCunn, an amateur photographer who set out alone to a remote lake in Alaska. He chartered a plane to deliver him, along with 500 rolls of film, a few guns and 1400 pounds of provisions. His mistake was that he forgot to charter a plane to come pick him up when his expedition was over.

For months he lived out in the woods, and when it came time to go home he sat and waited and waited. When his food was nearly gone, he thought he was saved when a small plane saw his camp and buzzed overhead. He rushed out to get the pilots attention, waving an orange sleeping bag in the air. The pilot couldn't land there, but McCunn thought that help would soon be on its way. After no plane came, McCunn saw on the back of his hunting license that the signal he gave was incorrect. He waved one fist in the air, which is actually the signal that everything is ok. The correct signal for SOS/distress is to wave both arms in the air (remember that, just in case). Sadly, it was another story without a happy ending.

So why bring up all this morbid and depressing talk? Well, the book is pretty good. Plus the other weekend (before I read the book), I sat out hiking alone in the woods. Luckily, Arkansas is a bit different than Alaska. The place I was going at wasn't that remote, though it was deserted since I decided to do my hiking on Superbowl Sunday.

My plan was to hit up Haw Creek Falls. It's a small waterfall, only about six feet tall. But it is located in a beautiful area, with several other neat little waterfalls nearby. Haw Creek Falls aren't that far from Clarksville, and I used to visit the falls often when I went to college there. Of course, I never knew about any of the other waterfalls around there. So now that I do I have been trying to get back up there and explore it a bit more. Last year I went to one of the best waterfalls in the state, located just up the road from Haw Creek Falls that I had never known about before. The falls are Pam's Grotto Falls, and are awesome:
Pam's Grotto Falls

So my plan was to hike around a few waterfalls, and leave with enough time to make it to a Superbowl Party later on. The plan mostly worked, I just missed the first quarter. No big deal, I wasn't too interested in the game anyways (it's not a FC Dallas game, who cares?).

So after waking up way too early for a weekend, I drove up the freeway and made it to Haw Creek Falls. I was a bit sad to see that the falls were running low, but they are scenic even without much water.
Haw Creek Falls

There wasn't much water, but there was some snow still on the ground. It had snowed in that area a few days before and I was really surprised that there was still some on the ground. It wasn't enough to build a snowman, but it was a nice sight anyways.

Here's another view of the falls, taken as it started to lightly rain:
Haw Creek Falls

One of the waterfalls I was hunting is just a short hike from the falls. It only requires finding a small creek that runs into Haw Creek, and following it upstream. The creek itself was quite scenic, flowing in cascades over moss-covered rocks.
On the way to Pack Rat Falls

This is a small cascade along the creek. Right below here the creek emptied in a large pool, guarded by a overhanging rock (the pictures didn't turn out). But there is a little bit of snow up at the top of the shot...
Cascade by Pack Rat Falls

After hiking about .25 of a mile up the creek, I finally found the waterfall. It's called Pack Rat Falls, and is about 25 feet tall.
Pack Rat Falls

I made my way back down the creek and to the car, and headed off to a few more waterfalls. These falls are on the Ozark Highlands Trail, and the best way to reach them is just under 10 miles from the Haw Creek Falls campground. It had stopped raining, but as the road curved around on the hills, it entered some really thick fog. I had to head down a bumpy and muddy dirt road, which was just cased in with fog.
In the middle of nowhere

Damn, I am so happy I didn't get a flat tire or lock my keys in the car out there!
Happy I didn't lock my keys in the car

Road Closed

After driving for about 4 miles I finally found the trail. It was still incredibly foggy, and a bit eerie. To add to it, the Forest Service did a controlled burn of this forest last year and most of the trees still looked burned. The burned and foggy forest was just a creepy combination.
Along the Ozark Highlands Trail

The forest seemed to be recovering ok after the burning. This stuff (whatever it is) was growing on a few downed trees along the trail:
Fun guys

The trail runs downhill, and after about a mile heads into a valley alongside Cedar Creek. The creek runs into a neat little area, where it cascades down into a large emerald pool:
Cedar Creek

Cedar Creek

If there was one part of the trail where I'd be likely to fall and hurt myself, it'd be there. There was thin layer of ice on the rock where I stood to take the above pictures. I tried to find a way down to get a different view of the waterfall, but the rock stood about ten feet above the creek. I looked but really couldn't find a good way to get down there. It would probably involve hiking farther down the creek and backtracking up there. I'll save that trip for some other time.

But the trail continued on down the creek, actually crossing it after about a half mile. The Ozarks Highland Trail continued on, but I went into a neat little valley that is home to two waterfalls. They are called Hobo Falls, because there had been old hobo camps found there before. I thought that was a bit odd, why would hobos want to go all the way out here in the middle of the woods? Unless they were following the same ideals that led people out in the middle of Alaska? Who knows, and I have no real clue. But of course all I know about hobos is the cartoon version of old guys with all their stuff bundled in a handkerchief on a stick, who ride the rails everywhere...

There were no hobos out that day, and not much water in the waterfalls. It's hard to tell here, but these falls are actually 23 feet tall.
Hobo Falls East

I can understand why people would want to camp out there, it was an amazing little area:
No hobos here

You can't see either of the Hobo Falls in this shot. The one pictured above is off to the right, and the other falls are ahead and around the bend.

Here is a shot of the western Hobo Falls, which are 27 feet tall and would look much better with more water...
Hobo Falls West

Here is another shot of the little valley, which was just filled with mossy rocks.
More moss

After that it was time to head on home. The trail to the falls is ranked as a medium difficulty, all because the return hike from the creek is all uphill. After having to take a few stops to catch my breath, I finally made it back up to my car. The road was still covered by a dense fog, and I was happy that I wasn't trying to drive back in the dark.

I drove by this sign on the way in and stopped to get a shot of it as I was leaving. Luckily I didn't have to drive down there, I don't think my Hyundai could handle it.
Narrow Rough Road

Luckily for the Hyundai's sake we made it to paved road and were on the way home. I managed to survive my trek into the wild, yay! But as I write this I am planning on taking another trip tomorrow. The weather guys say it will be rainy - perfect waterfall weather. Wish me luck...

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